It took only three weeks for The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story to top the New York Times best-seller list for graphic novels. But it took Vivek Tiwary, W’96, C’96, about 21 years to write it. Essentially, he started his “21-year labor of love” as a Penn undergrad.
“Wharton in some ways is the beginning of this whole thing,” Tiwary tells me.
Back then, he went to Penn and Wharton—the tops in business and liberal arts education—because he was dreaming about being an entrepreneur in the entertainment business. Being academic by nature, he went to study the lives of the great entrepreneurs—namely the Beatles and their first promoter Epstein, who wrote and rewrote the rules of the pop music, Tiwary says. Doing a case study for a course led Tiwary to further research Epstein. Back
then, there was no Wikipedia and no Internet for the most part. He was stunned to find that there wasn’t much out there about Epstein readily available.
“Like any good Penn/Wharton student, that only fuelled my interest,” he recalls.
He got his hands on every Beatles book he could find, and within each there was maybe 10 pages about Epstein. Then he reached out to individuals who knew Epstein. He cold-called them. Not surprisingly, many were wary to talk to him at first—until they realized he was really just a young student and that his heart was in the right place.
Time passed—not a long, long, long time—but long enough for Tiwary to blaze ahead on the career path he plotted at Penn. He worked his way through theater, gaining prominence and earning Tony Awards as producer on Green Day’s American Idiot, The Addams Family and Mel Brooks’ The Producers.
After the success of Raisin in the Sun eight years ago, with credits and success to his name, he realized it was time to return to Epstein’s story. He called his contacts from his Penn research—many with whom he remained friends—and he resumed his research.
What resulted Tiwary says, was a story that had obvious pop culture relevance, but—perhaps he was looking through a Wharton lens when talking with me— also a story of a great entrepreneur. Epstein, who died in 1967 at the age of 33, chased his dream despite significant obstacles; he was gay, Jewish and from hard-scrabble Liverpool in the 1960s. He was successful largely because of his vision and ingenuity. He changed the Beatles’ dress, haircuts and act. He convinced Ed Sullivan to book the Beatles for February 1964 when Sullivan never booked British acts, let alone a seemingly third-rate, unknown band like the Beatles. Then, Epstein convinced the record company EMI to in part sign them to a contract based on Sullivan’s plans.
All of these stories—everything on Epstein—can be found in the graphic novel that resulted from Tiwary’s labor of love, The Fifth Beatle, which has been received with acclaim and brisk sales.
It will soon become a major motion picture. Tiwary reported that the production has secured Sony/ATV Music Publishing’s approval to use actual Beatles music in the movie, which took three years, and more importantly the approval of Ringo Starr and Sir Paul McCartney. Peyton Reed (Bring It On) is set to direct, three-time Academy Award nominee Bruce Cohen (American Beauty) to produce. Casting begins in February 2014, shooting by the end of 2014, all with the goal of a 2015 release in mind.
“It’s at a very, very exciting place,” Tiwary said of the project. As for himself?
“I don’t know that I have ever had a moment and said, ‘Gee, I’ve made it,’” he said, noting how he’s the type of person who always moves on to the next project.
At the very least, Tiwary is at a point in his career where he’s got nothing to get hung up about.
Editor’s note: Visit Dark Horse Digital to download a free digital preview of The Fifth Beatle.